Monday, May 6, 2013

The Journey to Equi Terme (Letter #2 from Italy: April 21, 2013)

We decide on our destination for today – a little village called Equi Terme, just four kilometres away from Pieve San Lorenzo, where we are staying. “It’s walking distance,” I say, and we decide that a gentle walk to the home of a thermal hot spring is the perfect way to ease into our vacation after sleeping in (a rest well earned after more than 24 hours in transit) and a leisurely (and very late) breakfast of bread, cheese and coffee on our sunny terrace.

We pack our swimsuits, cameras, water, money and a few other essentials, perhaps most importantly, a map
(Judith and I have divided responsibilities: I am keys, train schedules and minor Italian translation; she is maps and coffee-making). 

We set off into the Italian countryside. About 30 minutes into our walk, we stop at Il Re di Macchia, a ristorante, and indulge in a delicious vegetarian lasagna. The only non-locals, we interestedly observe the 20 or so Italians seated at the table behind us (We think they may have been attending the confirmation/first communion of the children in our village, which wrapped up just before we left the apartment. The bishop visits the village once every two years to perform the ceremony). They are in animated conversation, and we notice they are not distracted by smart phones as often seems to be the case at North American gatherings now. 
After lunch, we continue our journey. We soon come to a sign listing a number of destinations, including Equi Terme. The arrow points right. And so we continue. 
We keep walking, reflecting on the fact that we seem to have been walking for quite some time; surely we must have walked four kilometres or more by now. However, we followed the sign to Equi Terme (which, I should note, did not include an accompanying distance) so must be on the right track.

We come to a crossroads, neither listing Equi Terme as a destination. Based on the other destinations listed, and cross-checking against our map, we turn left (none too confidently). We walk a short distance more and it begins to rain – light, pleasant rain, but rain all the same. We decide to turn around and ask a couple of men we’d seen standing outside a small building nearby if we’re going the right way. When we reach the building, the men are no longer outside, so I knock and open the door. Inside are several tables of Italian men, playing cards. One of the men, standing facing the door, motions with his hand for us to get out (or so I think – it now appears he was gesturing to “come in” – I have been tripped up by this gesture a couple of times since we arrived in Italy).

We stand outside for a moment, perpexed, when he comes out to see what we need. 

“Equi Terme?” we ask. Judith holds out the map. The man points to Equi Terme on the map. 

“Si,” we say. “Which way?” We point first in one direction then the other, and shrug. 

He points one way and gives us a very long, involved, Italian explanation. Then he points the other direction and does the same. We're no further ahead.

“This way or this way?” we repeat, pointing in each direction. He repeats his explanations (or something equally long and incomprehensible to us). 

Then he says something that leads us to believe he is trying to tell us we can go either way  - progress!
“Shorter way?” we say, gesturing with our hands. He points in one direction and says “seven kilometres” and in the other direction and says, “10 kilometres.” While it’s a far cry from the four-kilometre walk we envisioned when we started out a couple of hours ago, we opt for the seven-kilometre route.

The rain has stopped by now, and we are back on our way. We haven’t walked much farther when we realize we have walked into a valley
and the next phase of our journey goes straight up (Judith had commented a few minutes earlier how the bulk of our walk until now had been downhill. We suspected we'd have to pay for that at some point). 

We get part way up the hill when a little red car with an elderly Italian gentleman inside (one of the card players) pulls over on the side of the road. “Equi Terme?” he asks us. 

We respond, “Si.” 

He motions for us to get in the car and says something that makes us think (accurately or not) that he’s on his way home in the direction of Equi Terme, and will drop us. We accept. Note to Mom and Dad: This is not so much hitchhiking as it is accepting a ride from a kind, old Italian man (albeit a stranger). Frankly, continuing to walk seems the less intelligent choice at this point. We get in. 

Kind Italian Man talks non-stop at first; we understand almost nothing (I heard him say “dove,” which means “where,” but beyond that I am clueless). Judith points to grape vines outside and says, “grappa,” which as it turns out, is not the word for grape, but is an honourable guess. I suspect we’ve only confused Kind Italian Man. “What’s Italian for olive?” Judith asks me, wanting to comment on the olive groves. I search frantically for “olive” in my phrase book, but it’s not there. Judith makes no attempt to guess at its Italian translation. Probably just as well. Kind Italian Man stops trying to talk to us after that, clearly having realized the futility in it. We ride the next few minutes in silence.

He pulls over on the side of the road in a little village, which we presume is near his home. He points straight ahead to direct us onward. “Grazie, grazie,” we say, unable to express our gratitude any more eloquently. “Prego,” he nods, and we continue on our way. It seems we have come several kilometres from the point at which we were given the seven-kilometre directions, so it can’t be far now. Our legs will be ready for the hot springs when we arrive.

We keep walking. And walking. And walking. Finally, we see a sign for Equi Terme (Note to Italians: We love your country. Adding distances to your signs would make it virtually perfect). We continue. We see a couple more signs as we go, again with no indication how much farther we have to travel. My bladder has been full for at least the past hour, so am anxious to find a bathroom (while I could find a discrete spot off the road, it’s not my preference). I see a sign ahead, “Ristorante.” Phew. They’ll have a washroom. Judith sits on a nearby stone wall while I seek out the restaurant. Only there isn’t one. Just a sign, and a building that looks like it might have been a restaurant once. We continue on.

Finally, we reach a large Equi Terme sign – right in the middle of a crossroads. There is no arrow. Equi Terme could be right; it could be left. After a few moments of indecision, we choose left. We are soon rewarded. “Benvenido a Equi Terme,” the sign reads, and I cheer. 

Our excitement is short-lived. We soon discover that most things, including the hot springs, are closed (partly because it's not high season yet, and partly because it's Sunday).

There is nothing for it but to seek out the train station and head home. 

We stop a local gentleman: “Scuzi. Stazione treno?” 

He turns to his teenage son and asks him to direct us. “Straight,” he says, pointing up a small hill, “then left.” 

I decide to show off my very limited Italian. “Left. Sinestra,” I say with a smile. “Sinistra,” he corrects me with kindness. “Sinistra. Sinistra,” I say, grateful for his correction and his directions, “Grazie.”

We follow his instructions and find the train station with ease. After a short wait, we board the train, relieved. Off speeds the train through tunnels built right through the mountains, depositing us safely home to Pieve San Lorenzo in a mere seven minutes.

As it turns out, Equi Termi is just four kilometres away from Minucciano. By train. And 14.1 kilometres by foot (Google maps tells me) – a four-hour walk, give or take, with a leisurely pace, many stops and a drive from Kind Italian Man. Yet, if I had today to do over, I wouldn’t change a thing. Because today (and maybe every day) the journey matters more than the destination. 


  1. Wow! That sounds like an awesome day. And I definitely know I would have enjoyed the journey more than the arrival. Love these posts Mags, can't wait to read more. :)

  2. I love this plan. I've missed your letters.
    PS YOU were in charge of keys? Really?

  3. When I go to Italy with Mags, she will be in charge of coffee-making. I can't help but think that comment is foreshadowing a key "incident".